Accord contributes to school admissions symposium

March 27, 2015

The Accord Coalition has contributed to a new book exploring debates around pupil admission policies, which has been published by the think tank Civitas. The publication, ‘The Ins and Outs of Selective Secondary Schools: A Debate‘ features a range of contributions from experts and, in a sign of how faith school admissions has climbed the political agenda, a chapter from both Accord’s Chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, and the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Rev Nigel Genders, were carried.

In his chapter Rabbi Romain set out how Britain risked creating ‘an educational apartheid’, with more and more of its children being segregated by faith and ethnicity in its schools, due to the diversifying religious profile of society and a growth in the number of state funded faith schools. In addition to highlighting the negative consequences of this for community cohesion, he attacked the principle of such segregation on religious grounds. Quoting the Book of Leviticus (19.18) he said the only way to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself … is [by] knowing our neighbour.’

Rabbi Romain attacked how religiously selective admissions were open to manipulation and favoured the affluent. He cited a range of studies showing a strong correlation between religiously selective policies and socially-exclusive intakes, which he described as a ‘massive religious embarrassment’ given that faith schools should be skewed towards the poor and the vulnerable. He argued that ‘spending time in church to gain a school place has become the religious equivalent of paying cash for honours.’

He highlighted what he saw as a major inconsistency in the response of many to the Birmingham schools scandal (otherwise known as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’), arguing that had the schools been designated faith schools many of the practices condemned, such as limiting the curriculum to exclude lessons about sex education and reinforcing a cultural identity to the exclusion of others, would have been permitted. He asked ‘how can that which we find offensive in what are designated community schools suddenly be acceptable if they are labelled faith schools?’

In a sign of changing terms of debate, the Rev Nigel Genders described Church of England Schools as on a ‘journey’, writing that new Church of England schools that are being established use distance from the school as the oversubscription admission criterion for at least half of their intake, rather than all places purely on faith grounds. In seeming recognition that some parents take advantage of admissions criteria that reward Church attendance, he cited a Church School that welcomed non-Christians attending Church so as to gain admittance as an example of an inclusive religiously selective school.

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